Community turnout tops 300 for Andes farm documentary
By Matthew J. Perry
More than 300 people filled the gymnasium at Andes Central School last Saturday night to view “The Dairy Farms of Andes,” a student produced, 50-minute film which first took shape in an elective cinema class two years ago.
The screening was followed by a performance by the Stoddard Hollow String Band, which provided original music for the film, and trays of refreshments. DVD copies of the film were available for $10, and sales were brisk. The owners of the eight farms profiled in the film were also on hand, and each stood for a brief moment of recognition when the screening ended.
“This is a great example of hands-on learning as well as a living testament to the farmers of Andes,” said ACS acting superintendent John Bernhardt.
In her opening remarks, Cheyenne Tait, the narrator and student director of the film, thanked the Catskill Watershed Corporation for an educational grant that helped to get the project underway. “We had no idea where we’d end up,” she said of her fellow filmmakers. “But we’re proud to be here tonight.”
The film is centered on interviews with 14 farmers who, with a bare minimum of hired help, have kept their businesses in operation for as long as 50 years. Cumulatively, they tell a story of a half-century of change in production methods, the historical record of each farm’s ownership, the benefits and drawbacks of the region’s expanding connection to New York City, and the town’s gradual shift from a community based on farming to one almost independent of milk production.
The descriptions of the hardships are unsparing. “Most people wouldn’t last a day following us around,” says Peg Liddle, who has farmed 350 acres with her husband, Martin, since the mid-1980s.
Walter Gladstone, who took over his family’s farm in the early 1950s, isn’t inclined to advise people to try their hand at his business. “Milk is such a fluctuating commodity,” he says. “If I was a young person thinking about cows, with enough resources, I’d take a good hard look at it before I’d do it.”
Most young people in the area have done just that, and several farmers describe how they’ve coped with a loss of labor. Roger Terry, who retired last year, took the simplest route and tended to his 21 cows single-handedly. “I made money by not spending it.”
Martin Liddle recalls driving to town to find helping hands, sometimes more than he could use in a day. “Now you can’t even find one kid to help,” he says. Liddle guesses that he hasn’t missed a single twice-daily milking in 15 to 18 years.
Jim Darling, a fifth-generation owner of the Dar-View Farm, describes the isolation created by a dairy farm’s operating hours. “Social activities aren’t geared to the farm schedule anymore,” he says. “Five to 7 p.m., we’re tied up [by the day’s second milking and feeding]. That’s hard. We miss out.”
And yet, every person interviewed expressed satisfaction and pride in the lifestyle they have chosen. Many declare that their farms have been ideal places to raise their families. “At a very young age you learn to work,” says Dick Liddle, whose son Roger, has chosen to keep the farm going for another generation. Their family farm dates back to 1868.
“I’d do the same thing again,” says Gladstone. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Many photographs were contributed by the interviewees and the Andes Historical Society. These stills, in color and black and white, flesh out the history of the eight farms and the industry, which has united them for decades. Video footage shot by the ACS students conveys the vitality and allure of independent farming.
After the film ended, Bernhardt asked all attending who had been raised on or near a dairy farm to stand. All but a handful in the audience rose. Bernhardt then asked for only those currently working in farming to remain standing; all but a handful sat down.
“We just hope to see farming continue on in Andes,” says Martin Liddle. “It’s a dying art.”